Thursday, September 22, 2011


Worm Dinner
If every meal you serve is half fruits and vegetables like it should be, you have lots of non-meat scraps. I sure do. And living in a small city house, I was searching for a good composting solution.

Then my friend Joanne started talking about her vermicomposters and sent around this link... Last week she brought me a small bin of little worms (they're not Red Wigglers, but they're related to them) in their own bedding. I had their new home all ready for them.

It's day 10 and there's no smell, no real problems at all. And what a thrill to have a place to ditch my scraps that's only 9 steps from the kitchen counter!

Fruits, vegetables, leaves, coffee grounds, paper towels, newspaper. Read the link to find out how to layer it... it's really easy...I've got my own system that I'll share once I know it works...

My soil expert, old college roommate wrote me that "worm poop is like gold!" Hey, I know what I'm giving this Christmas!

Come and get it!
My Lovely Worm Composter

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Do you ever feel out of control or helplessly on the wrong track in your life?  Or are you troubled by recurring thoughts or feelings you wish you could escape? I've recently learned some ideas on how to change this.

It turns out that our minds are way more flexible than previously thought. We don't have to be stuck or just live with ourselves in some form we're unhappy with. And it's not just a matter of will power or escape, there are exercises that can remake our brains more the way we'd like them. Whether our troubled thought patterns are related to our pasts, long-term conditioning, even brain damage or chemical imbalances, improvement is possible through understanding how our minds work. Once we have a picture of that, we can learn to use the better parts of our brains to heal or rewire the damaged parts.

This summer my son gave me an excellent book about this subject by Dan Siegel, M.D. called Mindsight. I've recommended it to everyone since. Siegel does a great job of explaining our brains to us and then takes us through case studies where he's taught patients about their own brain disfunctions and how to remedy them.

Then while painting yesterday, I listened to a rebroadcast of an NPR interview between Krista Tippett and neuroscientist Richard Davidson Ph.D. also about rewiring the mind. Fascinating!

If you've ever thought that you're your own worst enemy or if you're in any way feeling bad about yourself, take some time with one of these resources and you may start on a more hopeful path. Here's the link to the radio program: Being: Investigating Healthy Minds with Richard Davidson

Wednesday, June 8, 2011



My sister-in-law starts every day washing bananas. No kidding. Before she even makes coffee, she washes bananas, oranges, apples, and whatever other fruit she's going to display in her three tier fruit stand. If the fruit isn't there, it's not to be eaten. Her four sons know that. They're only to eat the fruit that's been washed. They eat a lot of fruit (and veggies). And they are all healthy and handsome and full of energy. Dianne believes strongly in the benefits of raw foods. Seeing how great she and her kids look, you can't argue with her.

I couldn't remember what type of soap she used or if she used soap. So I emailed her, "Dianne do you use soap when you wash fruit and veggies?"  and this was her response:

I do not use anything besides water with the exception of fruits and some veggies with hard/impermeable skins which I will wash with water and a little dish soap, just to get the outsides clean such that when you're handling them and peeling/cutting them, you're not getting any bacteria that's on their outsides into the inside area that you eat.  Examples of these fruits/veggies are bananas, watermelon, other melons, squashes.  Otherwise, for things like apples, grapes, cherries, celery, carrots, etc., etc., I just rinse the hell out of them while rubbing them with my hands. Things like lettuces and herbs, I rinse the hell out of while "fluffing" the contents over and over and over again ad nauseum :-) so as to reach all the surface area as possible then spin the lettuces a lot and paper towel-dry the herbs.  When I am cutting something like a watermelon or other melon or a pineapple (remember, these are the babies that got the dish soap too), I will then rinse under water (briefly) the newly cut face (the inside fruit) as it has now made contact by virtue of the knife with outside hard skin that may not have had all bacteria removed by my neurotic first-washing efforts.  :-)  Potatoes??  Oh those babies get a long-ass old scrubbing as I generally do like the skins in my recipes.

What got me thinking about ways to wash produce is the E.coli outbreak in Germany which as of this writing has killed 24, sickened 2400 and left many of those with permanent kidney damage. The source is supposedly produce, but they still haven't determined which produce.

I've learned a lot about E.coli following this story. Here are some things I didn't know before:

1. Everyone has hundreds of types of E.coli in his/her digestive tract. You're not born with E.coli, but it gets there within the first 40 hours of life.

2. All mammals have E.coli in their digestive tracts. So do birds. Different animals have some different E.coli and some E.coli is common to all.

3. Most E. coli are harmless, many are beneficial. But there are 6 deadly ones (maybe 7 if they count the German one as a new one... they haven't decided that yet). These are called STECs (but I forget why).

4. Because E.coli lives in the digestive tract, mostly in the large intestine, it is spread through feces. That means if it's in your food your food had contact with feces. The feces might have been in the field, in the water used to wash the food, or on the hands of the food's handler. (Ever notice those signs in  restaurant bathrooms saying employees are REQUIRED to wash their hands?)

5. E.coli is not spread by coughs and sneezes.

6. Heat kills E. coli. There's a lot of it on meat (particularly hamburger), so that's why you want to cook it well. Washing works for produce.

7. If you get sick from food, there's no point going to the doctor unless you have bloody diarrhea. You're not supposed to take antibiotics, so there's not much a doctor can do except tell you to rest and drink fluids to flush the E.coli from your system. But once you've reached the bloody diarrhea stage you should be in the hospital and isolated from other people because that's when the thing can easily get out of hand and start spreading to family members, etc. and you'll need to have your fluids replaced via IV.

8. One of the strongest arguments against factory farmed animals is that they must be fed antibiotics because they are in such close quarters that it's impossible to keep them from being contaminated by feces. The antibiotics cause strains of E.coli to mutate into antibiotic resistant E.coli. It's an antibiotic resistant type of E.coli that's making people sick in Germany.

Of course E.coli is not the only reason to wash produce well. There are many other types of germs, not to mention pesticides and herbicides. But no matter how well you wash your food, remember, you are probably not doing a better job than my sister-in-law.


Thursday, June 2, 2011


In Mexico the main meal of the day is called comida and it's eaten between two and four in the afternoon. Schools get out at two and many small businesses close. Lots of people take two hour comida breaks and go home to eat, returning to work from four until eight. By many standards comida is a healthy tradition.

If you can't go home for this main meal, you might very well go to a comida corrida which loosely means cheap, homemade hot lunch on the run. Typically it includes soup, plus a guisado or main course – a little meat in a sauce; or meat, beans and rice; or chili rellenos; or fish, beans, and a little salad. In addition, there are always a basket of tortillas, fresh made salsas, and to drink: agua fresca  a sweet, watery drink made with either fresh fruit, hibiscus, or rice.

The cost in Morelia for a comida corrida is thirty-five pesos which is less than $3.50. We can't put together the same meal at home for that price and for years it was our habit to pick Alice up from school at two and go to a comida corrida for lunch. There's one on our corner that's quite good. It's in the front room of a residence and run by one of our neighbor ladies. Typically her eight tables are all full and turn a number of times each afternoon.

But about this time last year we stopped going. My husband went back to the states while Alice and I had another month to stay in Morelia, and I became determined to use the time to learn vegetarian cooking. I felt Alice and I were both a little too chunky, and I blamed the comida corridas – specifically the meat, rice and all-you-can-eat tortillas. So I watched Mollie Katzen and Alice Waters videos on my computer, visited the fresh food market every day, and had a wonderful time slicing and dicing and trying out new recipes.

That was the beginning of what became the food journey year of my life, and reading back over my journal and this blog I see how many turns it has taken. I've done a ton of research and learned loads about the food industry, about cooking, about who's who in food politics and nutritional science. But what I've just figured out, what took me a whole year to figure out, what I didn't even know I was looking for is how not to be hungry.  I'd forgotten there was such a state. I knew other people weren't hungry all the time, but I just figured they were luckier than me. I assumed my hunger was part of my being.  And it was. So when it left, wow, I felt free!

I picked my hunger up again though just the other day. I'd gotten too busy to cook so we went back to the local comida corrida.  I had a very flavorful chicken consume, some breaded white fish filets, beans, salad, some tortillas and a couple glasses of agua fresca. When I left I couldn't wait to get home and chow down on some chocolate chip cookies that Alice had made. I hadn't felt that degree of craving after a meal for ages – actually since giving up the comida corridas. But this time the reason was not a mystery.

It took this whole year of reading to figure out it was never the meat or the rice or the tortillas mounting up on my hips and gut. It was the agua fresca and its effect on my hunger. Looking at recipes on the internet, I discovered that a typical agua fresca is fresh fruit + 3/4 c. sugar + 1qt. water, which is 3T. of sugar per 8 oz. of water not including the sugar in the fruit.  That's more sugar than in the same amount of Coke! And on a hot day, I could easily drink 16 - 20 oz. And all this time I've felt superior to people who drink soda. Shame on ignorant me. And once that sugar gets into my system (and when you drink it, it gets there fast) I just keep craving food – particularly sweets – the rest of the day.

So, knowing this about myself, I've stopped putting anything sweet in my mouth until late in the day. Goodbye smoothies for breakfast. Goodbye orange juice, jelly on toast, sugar on my oatmeal. I've left those seemingly reasonable habits behind in exchange for the wonderful state of not wanting to eat every piece of food I see. I'm still getting used to going to the market and not feeling compelled to buy anything besides what's on my list.  I love not being hungry!

Mexico is virtually tied with the US for fattest nation on the planet. But the truth is out now. The science all points to the drinks. And it's not just sodas, but sports drinks, iced teas, coffees, juices, and even baby formulas. Next time I visit a comida corrida, I'm packing my water. Then it really will be a remarkably healthy, homemade meal for cheap.

Other posts about this topic: Rethinking Breakfast, My Liver Goes to Camp

To watch a lecture on this subject: Sugar: The Bitter Truth

Friday, May 20, 2011


Mark Bittman's in Iowa (I follow his blog). Nonetheless, via How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, he helped me invent whole wheat hamburger rolls yesterday and they turned out so well that I've given my recipe below.  I served Alice one warm with a blackbean burger on it. She gave me a thumbs up while her mouth was still full. I gave myself a pat on the back and thought for the millionth time: I love Mark Bittman.

The bread section of his cookbook has given me the confidence to start dough in the morning without any idea what I might do with it later in the day, or when.  It's just nice to have the option of making fresh rolls or a baguette or pizza for dinner. Or not. In which case I make the dough into a ball and freeze it for another time.

I just wish Mark didn't go on so much about food processors. I'm not a gadget person for a number of reasons -- I don't have a hand mixer or a microwave oven or even a clothes dryer. And I don't want to get down about it. So I don't like reading: "food-processed dough is not only easier but better than hand-kneaded dough:  The food processor doesn't care how sticky the dough is; in fact, it should be rough looking, what bakers call 'nearly shaggy,' halfway through the processing. It becomes a smooth ball when you continue to process beyond this point -- the part of the processing that is the machine kneading."

I was part owner of a bakery once -- Abigail's Bakery, in New Hampshire (was that really 25 YEARS ago?) It was a lot like The Daily Bread Bakery Mark visited in Iowa yesterday. I stood next to a giant Hobart mixer hundreds of mornings watching the ingredients in the three foot steel bowl come together "shaggy" then finally pull away from the sides of the bowl forming a single smooth mass. That was the time to stop the machine and lift the dough into a 5 gal. bucket and sit it in the proofing cabinet.

Truth be told, I wasn't a confident baker back then. I stictly stuck to the recipes. But now, thanks to Bittman, I can picture myself leaving cookbooks behind and making bread anywhere I find myself in a kitchen with some flour, salt, and random other ingredients (I'll be packing a little yeast).

Handmade Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns:

Stir together these dry ingredients: 1 cup white flour and 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, 2 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. instant yeast, 1 T. sugar.

Cut 2 T. butter into little tiny pieces and dropped individually throughout the dry ingredients.

Add: 1 egg and 3/4 cup of milk and stir with flat wooden spoon until the ingredients start to come together. Then add 1/4 cup of milk and all the dough will actually come together "shaggy." Ditch the spoon and start kneading with your hands. The dough will be quite moist and somewhat sticky, but not so sticky that it continues to stick to the bowl and your fingers. Don't add extra flour if you can avoid it.

Once the dough forms into a cohesive mass knead a little longer until it's relatively smooth. Form into a ball and leave in a lightly oiled bowl covered with a towel or plastic. Let it rise for an hour or two. (If it's going to be much longer, put it in the fridge and take it out an hour before you want to bake it.)

I let this wholewheat dough rise for about an hour and a half. Then I pushed the air out and divided it in 8 pieces. I let it rest again while I did some dishes. Then, working on the lightly oiled baking pan, I formed rolls by first flattening the dough with my palm and then folding the edges toward the middle and pinching them together.  I put the rolls, seam side down, as far apart from each other as I could, sprinkled some sesame seeds on top and let them rise while I ran out to buy lettuce and tomatoes (20 minutes?).  If they'd been left longer, it would've been fine too. Meanwhile the oven was pre-heating to around 350º. Before putting the rolls in the oven I flattened them a little with a spatula so they'd be slightly flat and so the seeds would stick.

They were done in about 15 minutes.  I could tell they were done because they were light brown and when I tapped on them they sounded hollow. Also I loosened one from the pan and it was quite brown on the bottom.

Monday, May 16, 2011


     My husband, daughter Alice, and I are planning to drive from New Hampshire to Boulder, CO in June to deliver a car and, get this, we're already fighting about whether we'll be stopping at McDonalds. Alice got furious when I said we'd bring a cooler full of healthy food so we wouldn't be captives of fast food on the highways.  She yelled, "WHAT? Are you nuts? That's half the fun of the trip!" Now I'm worried. I know what it's like to take a long car trip with someone who's always wanting to stop at the next bad food venue. My mom was like that.
     My family took lots of long car trips together in the late 60's and the 70's. I loved riding in the backseat with my sister, my book, my knitting. It was great. The only thing I hated was all the stopping. Sometimes it was for the bathroom, but lots of times it was for food. "Didn't we Just Eat?" I'd be asking. Next thing we'd be piling out for ice cream at Howard Johnsons. Two hours later we'd be stocking up on pecan candy at Stuckey's.
     My mother was a food addict. Sweets were her food of choice, but fatty salty foods also played their roles. Her problem affected the whole family. From my first memories on she suffered from migraines, kidney stones, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and finally cancerthese are all linked to food addiction. She died at the age of  61.  I could only think of her yesterday as I listened to Dr. Mark Hyman describe the behavior of food addicts in his 23 minute lecture on  the Causes of Food Addictions.  It explains so much. In it Hyman goes over some of the indicators of a food addiction:

  • Substance is taken in larger amount and for longer period than desired
  • Persistent desire or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit
  • Much time/activity is spent to obtain, use, or recover
  • Use continues despite knowledge of adverse consequences 
  • Tolerance (marked increase in amount; marked decrease in effect)—in other words you have to keep eating more and more just to feel “normal” or not experience withdrawal
  • Characteristic withdrawal symptoms; substance taken to relieve withdrawal
     Having Alice pitch a fit about not eating McDonald's on a trip that's six weeks away, makes me worry a little. Could she be on her way to becoming an industrial food addict? Certainly McDonald's has done what it can to encourage that sort of "loyalty", but what part did we, her parents, play? We hardly ever eat fast food, BUT when Alice was 3, 4, and 5 years old, we drove from New Hampshire to and from central Mexico. That's a five day trip in one direction and we stopped at McDonald's for many meals because they had Playlands where we could let Alice get some exercise. That came back to haunt us last night as we watched the part of Super Size Me  (0:27:43) where Professor John F. Banzhaf III, talks about Brand Imprinting for Later Actualization in Life. This was something the tobacco industry came up with. They thought kids who smoked candy cigarettes would associate those feelings of fun with smoking as adults and the brand of cigarettes on that box of candy would come back to them from the recesses of their minds. According to Banzhaf, Playlands and Happy Meals are like candy cigarettes: "Kids remember the warm feelings of playing, of getting the toy, of being with mom and dad, and it's going to carry through." OMG, was it carrying through to Alice yesterday when we were talking about the trip to Colorado? What a creepy thought.

In Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock starts to exhibit the signs of addiction after only two weeks of eating a diet solely of McDonald's food. (I wonder how long it would take for a 3-5 year old.) He feels lethargic and depressed between meals. Only immediately after eating does he briefly feel great. After three weeks, his liver, which was healthy when he started, begins to look like an alcoholic's on a mega-binge.  The point is, food addiction is real and real serious. So do I worry about Alice? Yes. Will we be stopping at McDonald's on the way west this summer? Not if I can help it.

If I can't help it, maybe I have some questions to ask about my own attractions to food. What about you?

Here's a section of the Yale Univ. Food Addiction Scale
They ask you to circle all the following foods you have problems with:

Ice cream 
White Bread 
French Fries 
Soda Pop 
None of 
the above 

Monday, May 9, 2011


Have you ever thought about how sugary breakfast is? Cereal, muffins, toast w/jelly, granola bars, pop tarts and even juice and fruit... it's all sugar. This may be a bad way to start the day. I believe what Dr. Robert Lustig says: sugar gets in the way of our body's signals that tell us we're full.

I love to feel full! Not stuffed, just full enough so I'm not thinking about food all the time. But that sensation of total satisfaction for me is rare. Sometimes even after a big meal, I still crave something sweet. But not if I start the day with a no-sugar breakfast. If my first meal of the day is an egg dish, or oatmeal without raisins or sugar or milk (lactose is sugar too),  I can go for hours without thinking about food. When I get to the next meal, if I again don't have anything sweet, I never get a sweet craving.  It turns out I can go all day like that. I'm so surprised to discover this. You might be too.

If you try it, let me know if you have the same experience, I'm really curious.

This morning I'm going to have leftover chicken soup for breakfast. Why not?

According to Lustig, sugar in large quantities drives up insulin secretion. This insulin floods the brain, and in particular the hypothalamus, which regulates energy use in the body. As a result, leptin, a hormone that tells the brain when the body needs more or less energy, can't get its signal to the hypothalamus because the insulin blocks the way.

The result is that the body is thrown into starvation mode -- the brain thinks it isn't getting enough energy and therefore needs more calories and to save energy.  People end up feeling the symptoms of starvation: malaise, depression, a lack of motivation to exercise and, of course, hunger.

Read more:

Thursday, May 5, 2011


These days I'm all about the liver -- my liver, my kids' livers, your liver. Since I watched Sugar the Bitter Truth as recommended by Gary Taubes in his NY Times Magazine article Is Sugar Toxic?I can't stop thinking about the liver.  You can't live without one, you know, and having one that isn't functioning well can make you feel and look like hell.

Sugar the Bitter Truth is a lecture by Robert H. Lustig, MD, a specialist in childhood obesity.  It's an hour and a half and very sciency, but I've watched it twice and taken notes. Basically it's about how sugar effects the liver to create fat. And most of us consume way too much sugar (a lot of it hidden in processed foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup) without enough fiber, so most of us have weight issues or more serious issues (metabolic syndrome, gout, heart disease, diabetes) caused by a fatty liver.

Note: it's possible to have a fatty liver and not be fat.  

It turns out our bodies don't process all sugars the same way and that almost 100% of the fructose we consume goes directly to our liver, and eventually the liver gets overwhelmed and starts converting the fructose to fat.  30% of fructose converts to fat.  That's more fat than we can burn.  Particularly if we're not eating the fructose with fiber like in fruit. That's why little fat kids who drink lots of juices and sodas have big bellies just like people who drink too much beer. (Alcohol also goes almost 100% to the liver.) Belly fat is a particularly good indicator of a toxic liver.

I don't have a big belly. Anymore.  I've been living a food-healthy lifestyle for the past ten months and have gotten rid of a lot of it. That is until last week when I volunteered for an over-night, week-long camp for girls and started eating their meals.

First, let me say, the camp experience was wonderful -- horseback riding, swimming, kayaking, water fights, sleeping in a bunk bed.  I even liked and admired the cooks.  Three women cooked outside in a small space three meals a day for 35 people. They made beans, rice, meat, chopped salad, and brought in hot handmade corn tortillas.  There was cut up fruit or bananas with each breakfast.  The problem was the additional breads, pastas, sweet rolls and sugary juices that were served with every meal, the hot chocolate at night.  Plus every girl had a private candy stash.  It was quite heavy on the sugars and refined carbohydrates.  I ate it all with gusto!

Statistic: Women today eat 335 calories more than women 20 years ago and ALL of that additional is in carbohydrates.

Other statistic: Women today weigh 25 lbs. more on average than they did 25 years ago.

Here is how I looked and felt the day after I got home:  distended belly, flaring rosacea, aching legs, fatigue, depression, and I was unable to sleep through the night.

This was hardly the first time in my life I'd over-indulged with food. On the contrary, I used to do it a lot more often, but this time I thought of it as abusing my liver, whereas I used to think about my liver only when alcohol was involved. Dr. Lustig has changed my perception of that.

The good news is: it's easy to restore an abused liver. After three days of hardly any sugar, including no alcohol, I feel like a new person.  My mood is stable, I don't look pregnant, I've had three good night's sleep, and a lot of the redness has left my face. Also, between meals I feel full and don't think about food all the time.  I wonder, WHY DO I EVER EAT SUGAR?  I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT IT! And because I better understand liver function and how sugar works on the liver it makes more sense than ever. Knowledge is power!

Unless you're a kid.

My impression is that if you're a kid and you're addicted to sweets -- and you are because you're fed sugar starting from the first bite or sip you take in the morning (cereal, juice, toast) and throughout the day -- knowledge is something to be avoided.

I thought a lot about that at camp watching the scene. How, I wondered, could I convince any of these 6-17 year olds that what they were chowing down on so heartily would make them sick and fat? What about the cooks, could I convince them? The other volunteers?  I didn't even try, who needs a Debbie Downer at camp? No, I decided, camp was not the place to bring up the liver-sugar-fat connection.

This is the place.

Are you abusing your liver?  Your kids livers?  You may be surprised.  Watch this:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


My friend Lucille sent me a desert recipe this week I had to try: 2 avocados cut in chunks, 1/2 cup agave nectar/syrup, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa,
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1 1/2 tsp. almond extract.

Mix all together in the food processor or blender until smooth. Spoon into 4 serving dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for an hour. Serve garnished with raspberries (or strawberries or whipped cream).

I was intrigued by this recipe because it has two  local foods for Michoacan (where I am), avocado and agave, AND because I couldn't believe it would make a decent tasting desert. I am way more than pleasantly surprised. It's so good, if the family doesn't get home soon, there won't be any left.

I've already posted about all the nutrition packed in avocados.  So today I thought I'd do a little research on agave nectar.  OMG it turns out to be quite the hornet's nest.  I'm pretty sure the sugar industry is as competitive and cut-throat as it gets, and lots of the bad information has a dubious ring to it. Let me just say, I'm glad I found agave nectar, its flavor is milder than honey or maple syrup and it pours pretty easily.  No way can I get real maple syrup here, and agave syrup is going to be my new pancake topping.  If it turns out to have amazing health benefits like they've just discovered in maple syrup, I'll be pleasantly surprised.  If I find it makes me as "high as crack cocaine" or "causes acne", I'll be sure to let you know.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


World food prices are high and it looks like they're going higher. I've heard that surpluses in the US are a thing of the past. Natural disasters and political turmoil often send poor people into relocation camps where they are dependent on food aid. It's a difficult situation to imagine. But here's a hopeful article about women in Kenya growing food in sacks. What I like most about it is how the know-how is passed from person to person.

Everyone should know how to grow some food!

URBAN WOMEN GROW FOOD IN SACKS by Nancy Karanja, Danielle Nierenberg, and Mary Njenga

Driving through the crowded streets of Nairobi’s Kibera slums, it’s nearly impossible to describe how many people live in this area of about 400 hectares, the equivalent of just over half the size of Central Park in Manhattan .
Everywhere you look, there are people.
Anywhere from 700,000 to one million people live in what is likely the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa .
And despite the challenges people here face – lack of water and sanitation services, space and lack of land ownership are the big ones – they are thriving and living.
Small gardens produce big benefits in nutrition and income.
We met a “self-help” group of female farmers in Kibera who are growing food for their families and selling the surplus to their neighbours.
Such groups are present all over Kenya – giving youth, women and vulnerable people the opportunity to organize, share information and skills and ultimately improve their well-being while giving them a voice that otherwise would not be heard.
The women we met were growing vegetables on what they call “vertical farms or gardens.”
But instead of skyscrapers, these farms are in tall recycled sacks filled with soil, and the women grow crops in them on different levels by poking holes in the bags and mainly planting seeds and seedlings of spinach, kale, sweet pepper and spring onions. The women’s group received training, seeds and sacks from the French NGO Solidarites to start their sack gardens.
The women told us that more than 1,000 women in their neighborhood are growing food in a similar way – something that the International Red Cross recognized as a solution to food security in urban areas during the 2007 and 2008 political crisis in the slums of Nairobi .
For about a month, no food could come into these areas from rural Kenya, but most residents didn’t go without food because so many of them were growing crops – in sacks, vacant public land such as that along rail lines and along river banks.
These small gardens could produce big benefits in terms of nutrition, food security and income.
All the women told us that they saved money because they no longer had to buy vegetables from the markets or kiosks, and they claimed that the vegetables were fresh and tasted better because they were organically grown – but that sentiment also might come from the pride of growing something themselves.
Mary Mutola has farmed on this land for over two decades.
She and the other farmers – more women than men – don’t own the land where they grow spinach, kale, spider plant, squash, amaranth and fodder.
Instead, the land is owned by the National Social Security Fund, which has allowed the farmers to use the farm through an informal arrangement.
In other words, the farmers have no legal right to the land.
They’ve been forced to stop farming more than once over the years, and although they’re getting harassed less frequently, they still face challenges.
About a year ago, the city forced them to stop using untreated wastewater (sewage from a sewer line which they tapped into) to both irrigate and fertilize their crops.
Although wastewater can carry a number of risks, including pathogens and contamination from heavy metals, it also provides a rich – and free – source of fertilizer to farmers who don’t have the money to buy expensive fertilizer in stores and other inputs.
And because of longer periods of drought (likely a result of climate change) in sub-Saharan Africa, the farmers didn’t have to depend on rainfall to water their crops.
But even with the loss of their main water supply and nutrient sources, Ms.  Mutola and the other farmers are continuing to come up with innovative ways of growing food crops – and incomes – from this farm.
In partnership with Urban Harvest, the farmers are not only growing food to eat and sell but, perhaps surprisingly, also becoming suppliers of seed of traditional leafy African vegetables such as amaranth, spider plant and African nightshade for the commercial vegetable rural farmers who supply the Nairobi city with these high-demand commodities.
Kibera farmers have always grown fodder for livestock feed for both urban and rural farmers.
But by establishing a continual source of seed for traditional African vegetables, they’re helping dispel the myth that urban agriculture benefits only poor people living in cities.
Using very small plots of land, about 50 square meters, and double dug beds, the farmers can raise seeds very quickly. Fast-growing varieties like amaranth and spider plant take only about three months to produce seeds, worth about 3,000 Kenyan shillings (about $40) in profit.
And these seed plots – because they are small – take very little additional time to weed and manage. The future for these farmers continues to be uncertain.
Their land could be taken away, the drought could further jeopardize their crops, and the loss of wastewater for fertilizer could reduce production.
But they continue to persevere despite these challenges.
Nancy Karanja is a professor at the University of Nairobi.  Mary Njenga is a Ph.D. student at the University of Nairobi . Danielle Nierenberg is a senior researcher with the Worldwatch Institute.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


My husband sent me this NYTimes article about the sale of Pringles Potato chips for $2.35 billion. I found the whole article fascinating, mostly the part that explains just how non-food Pringles really are. The whole concept of them was really based on being able to use that container... what they were made of and how they tasted were all conceived around that. There's not a thing about Pringles that has anything to do with "food" except that you put them in your mouth and chew them. Thank you Andrew Martin for shedding more light on what it really means to be a "consumer."  

Once a Great Flop, Now Sold for Billions

In announcing the sale of Pringles on Tuesday, Procter & Gamble concluded what had been a tumultuous, sometimes zany, 50-year experiment in engineered food.

The $2.35 billion deal with Diamond Foods is also a milestone for Procter as it sheds its last food brand after having already sold Jif peanut butter, Folger’s coffee and Crisco shortening.

The company’s expertise in edible oils was used widely by the potato chip industry in the 1950s and 1960s, and shaped the invention of Pringles, the thinly sliced saddle-shaped crisp. Company officials still aren’t sure how the chips got their name, but one theory holds that two Procter advertising employees lived on Pringle Drive in Cincinnati and the name paired well with potato.

The creator of the famous Pringles can was so proud of his invention that he asked that his ashes be buried in one.

Yet Pringles, which is basically dehydrated potato flakes that are rolled and then fried, was not universally loved.

It was such a dud in its early years that some called for Procter to dump the brand. The brand did not take off until the company tweaked the flavor in 1980 and introduced the “Fever for the Flavor of Pringles” advertising campaign.

By the late 1990s, Pringles had become a $1 billion a year brand. On the television series “Ally McBeal,” Ally got into a grocery store skirmish with a woman over a can of Pringles.

“When I was there 30 years ago, it was dead,” said Charles Jarvie, vice president of Procter’s food division in the late 1970s. “It’s a great example where they just didn’t give up.”
(Read whole article.)

Monday, April 4, 2011


This morning on Twitter I read that Glen Groth was giving his dairy cows BST shots. So I looked into what that was and came up with this informative article about BST by another dairy farmer.

BST is a synthetic hormone. I knew that one can buy hormone-free milk, but until I read this article I would've tested poorly on what that means.  

Glen Groth also said, "more milk from less feed = sustainability."  Glen has not watched Meat the Truth or he'd know you can't talk about cows and sustainability at the same time.


In this day and age, to be successful at dairy farming, you have to keep improving your techniques and look for better ways to improve. This has become a high tech society and we need to do everything possible to enhance your farm. High milk production is the key to dairy farming. Farmers will go to many extents to stimulate the ultimate performance from their dairy cows. Such extents include adding extra protein or carbohydrates to their total mixed rations, or administering hormone shots every fourteen days.

Monsanto is a widely known company for producing farming products, and a popular company extending from Monsanto is Posilac. Posilac markets this milk-producing enhancement for dairy cows. Bovine Somatotrophin (BST) is the popular hormone shot that is administered to dairy cows after 9 to 10 weeks of lactation or after calving. BST is a synthetic hormone that is injected to improve a cows’ milk production by 10-15 %. A going rate of $5.20 a shot, can be very costly initially, but the results over time show a significant profit from using BST.

“BST is taken in by the liver, which synthesizes the fatty acids in the bloodstream. It regulates the liver, adipose tissue and bone, and produces IGF-1. IGF-1 affects mammary cells to increase cellular activity that increases weight gain and milk production” (Walker). The shot needs to be given in one of the two specific places on the cow. They include either right near her tail head or right behind the shoulder. If this is not practiced properly, it can cause severe problems with the cow. In conjunction with hormone shots, proper nutrition needs to be regulated to provide a balance diet. Consultations with your nutritionists can also enhance the results from BST. Technically, increasing the dry matter intake will help enhance the BST. “On average, dairy cows are showing approximately an 8-12 pound per cow per day jump”(BST).

Controversies dealing with hormone injections to cows are just like giving hormone injections to humans. In this case, the dairy cows do not have much of a say in this matter, whereas humans do. The BST that is administered is said to be very similar to the naturally occurring hormone that the cows produce on their own is called Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH). The Food and Drug Administration has looked over the research done by Monsanto on the effects of the dairy cows that were given BST. “There are no differences in the milk produced or internal affects on the dairy cow” (Posilac).

The positive side of this controversy is that the amount of milk that is being produced is helping out the farmers’ monetary situations. The cows are showing their ultimate potential, and it is a useful management tool. Cows show a dramatic increase on milk and slowly decline to their drying off periods. This still happens even if they weren’t on BST, but their overall production is still higher than without BST. BST is administered every 14 days, and to inject 250 shots takes about an hour. Time-management is needed on larger farms as well as smaller farms to administer the shot, which helps with overall management. “This is an efficient cutting-edge product that is available today. Might as well hop on the train while it is moving, and don’t miss out” (BST).

If a farm mostly bases their cull rate on milk production and effectiveness, using BST will decrease their cull rate. Trying to be efficient as possible in the dairy industry is vital for survival. Along with these important positive aspects to using BST, there are always negatives ones as well. Negative aspects are not spoken about when first using BST, but over time you see negative responses.

BST has to be given every 14 days, during that time, cows’ milk production peaks only in the middle of the cycle. It slowly rises to the peak position at about 6-7 days, and then slowly drops off after that. The high initial cost can be very intimidating to a first-time user. $5.20 a shot can hurt a farmer’s pocket if they decide that using BST is the last resort before they decided to sell out. Milk prices are not particularly in our favor anymore and when we experience a drop in milk prices, BST is very expensive to keep administering. If the shot is not given properly, the hormone can affect specific tissues and muscles that it is not suppose to, and will cause severe harm to the dairy cow. Cows can get addicted to the extra hormonal intake, where they do not produce without it. They can also become immune to it, and money is wasted to get them producing again.

There are many arguments that giving dairy cows BST is harmful. Research that has been done proves that BST only stimulates the system to produce milk, not stimulating cancer cells, or harmful bacteria found in milk. BST is not much more than a human drinking an energy drink. Eric Reid, an artificial inseminator for GENEX, states that he believes that BST is good for increasing milk production, but poor for dairy cow extended performance. “I just do not like to see cows be placed with extra stress and wear out faster than those who do not take BST” (Reid).

I am going to agree with Eric Reid, because I also do not like to see extra stress placed on cows to wear them out easily. However, BST hormonal injections are the best technology today, and by keeping our farm in business, we need to produce as much milk as possible. I have given cows plenty of BST shots and it doesn’t take up much time, but I still think it is very expensive. If there was a more dramatic improvement than 8-12 lbs per cow per day, than I could change my mind. This leads me to add that the milk prices are indeed getting better, but not good enough. If everyone were to stop using BST hormonal injections, there would be a demand/shortage for milk, and the milk prices would increase. A lot of people agree with me when I state this, but the action is hard to do. It would be a long-term benefit, but we can’t afford to decrease milk production due to terminating BST shots.

I believe that BST hormonal injections are not dramatically bad. They do have bad outcomes in the long run, but they are also very beneficial for right now. They are the newest technical improvement, and as an expanding dairy farmer, I need all the help I can get. I will stand up for BST shots when the subject comes about, but I will also state what I think should be done and personal feelings like I have in this paper. (

Would I use BST if I was a dairy farmer?  I'm sure I'd be under some pressure to, but I hope not.  I hope I'd care more about my animals than about money. And I hope I'd have access to a milk buyer who cared who in turn had customers who cared.  


Friday, April 1, 2011


A vegetarian in a Hummer creates fewer carbon emissions than a meat eater in a Toyota Prius.  That's just one of the interesting things I found out watching Meat the Truth a documentary made just a few years ago that somehow I'd never heard of until this evening when I stumbled across a vegan conference here in Morelia.  The film had just started when we walked in.   You can watch the whole thing on Youtube.   I'm not vegan but I'm eating less meat all the time and now that I've seen this film I'm feeling mighty good about that on several levels.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I thank Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (best Christmas present 2010) for most of my recent recipe favorites.  This one I can now make half asleep.  It's invaluable because its so flexible, cheap, and kid-friendly.   If I throw together the dough in the morning I can stick it in the fridge for 5 or 8 hours to slow its rising, take it out, and have it ready in 1/2 an hour to load into the oven. Sometimes I split the dough in half with Alice and let her make her own small pizza while I make a small salt and herb white pizza (olive oil + fresh rosemary + sea salt).

Alice  can also make the dough. We do it with a wooden spoon and then our hands. Why wash a food processor?  Actually, we don't have a food processor.  Ditto for a pizza pan or stone.  We just make a large oval pizza on our cookie sheet. When we split the dough, Alice uses a 9" metal cake pan and I use the cookie sheet. You can pretty much use anything.

Note: You cook pizza at the hottest setting your stove has.  

Mix in a bowl:  3 cups all purpose flour, 2 tsp. instant yeast, 2 tsp. salt. Add 2 T. olive oil and one cup water. Stir with wooden spoon until it starts to come together, then start using your hands until you make a smooth ball. If it's too dry add a little more oil or a little more water.

Pour a bit more oil into the bowl and sit the dough on it. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until it doubles in size. This takes an hour or more. Once it's risen, push it down again and reshape into a ball or two balls and let rise again for 20 minutes. Then press dough flat with hands or roller or booze bottle.  You can do this on a "floured surface" but why make a mess? I just do it directly on the cookie sheet which I oil a little first.

Note:  Try never to rip dough.  If it gets hard to handle, let it rest for five minutes before stretching again.

Cover with tomato sauce and toppings. It's best to pre-cook the toppings. Fewer toppings are better (so says Mark B.).  Bake in hot hot oven until crust starts to brown.

Note: I don't particularly like that I'm using all white flour, but after experimenting with various amounts of whole wheat, I've decided it tastes best just plain white and I make up for the wholesomeness with the toppings -- but I'm not done experimenting.    

My next kitchen gadget will definitely be a pizza cutter.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Two videos came to my attention this week. The first one made me smile and give a tweet, but when I realized Alice was watching it over and over again gleaning tons of the info and starting to sing it, I was more impressed. Not sure the Stonyfield folks were aiming at a 13 year old audience, but bet they'll be thrilled to have it.

A marvelous short video arrived in my Facebook feed about how to build a permaculture garden and why.  Many students from UMass Amherst participated and it's well worth watching to see how they're creating the garden from a lawn without killing the lawn with herbicides or digging it up.  I've used this technique in New Hampshire. Definitely works. I'm really looking forward to the next installment of the video which will show them planting.  Enjoy!
If you're interested in learning more about this type of gardening, check out Edible Forest Gardens.  (It has nothing to do with forests as they're usually defined.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011


These days I live in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico.  People here and all over Mexico still eat a lot of home cooking.  There are always vendors in the streets and markets selling real food like tacos, tamales, meaty soups, corn on the cob, fresh squeezed juices, etc.  At two o'clock schools let out and many many businesses close for the main meal of the day which is enjoyed from two until four.  People go home for this meal if they can.  This is one of my favorite things about Mexico.  It has nothing to do with convenience.

I was born in 1955.  My grandparents were German immigrants in Queens who had vegetable gardens in their yards.  We went to one of their houses for the Sunday meal almost every weekend.   Other relatives were always there too.  My grandmas wore aprons and made us say grace.  That's what Mexico is like every day for many families in my neighborhood.

When I was 8 we started to move around the country for my Dad's job.  Most nights my mom cooked dinner, but wherever we lived we always had a favorite pizza place and a favorite Chinese place for take-outs, plus my dad made a good salary and liked to take us out to restaurants.  This was a treat for my mother because for her making the meal was work.   You know what I think about that?  I think my mom was bamboozled.

Cooking is not work.  Cooking is art.  Cooking is an expression of our humanity.  But somehow after WWII, a generation bought into the idea that cooking wasn't cool... that it wasn't modern... that it kept them from doing something more important.  Cooking became inconvenient.  Convenience became a big deal.  What's so great about convenience... what does it even mean?    I think it means missing out on sensual experiences that can be meditative, that add something beautiful to a day.

Take preparation of the simplest foods, for example carrots.  Carrots are a rather exciting color.  They feel smooth and cool to the touch.  They're basically long and pointy, but some have interesting variations.  It feels good to chop something that's a little hard.  It makes you think about the knife you're using.    Using a knife puts you in contact with about a zillion past generations of your ancestors and people all over the world.  That connection feels good deep inside.   When you cut up carrots you can pop a piece in your mouth.  mmm.  How did we give up all that pleasant experience for buying and ripping open a plastic bag of stubby little generic looking "baby" carrots which are sometimes slimey?  Convenience.  

Then there's the buying part.  Think how it feels to walk down the center aisles of grocery stores between boxes and jars and cans yelling at you with a million words -- a lot of them long and unintelligible.  It's unpleasant and exhausting.  Now think about the produce section where the food is piled artistically and you get to touch it and smell it and bag as much as you want.  Lovely!

I think my mother's generation was robbed, and consequently she robbed me.  I'm not saying she didn't teach me how to buy a good cantaloupe or that corn in season was a blessing.   But she also taught me one onion + one green pepper + a lb. of chopped chuck + Campbell's tomato soup  served over egg noodles = American spaghetti.  A lot of the food education she dispensed had to do with which brands were best (Hellmans for mayo, Sara Lee for chocolate cake)  and shortcuts -- how to make something that sounded hard but was really simple because it used some premixed ingredients.  The premise was that the actual making of the food was something to be shortened or avoided.  It's taken me to my fifties to realize how wrong headed that training was, how all those saved steps are sensual and fun and make me feel good.

San Juan Mercado, Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico
I am worried about Mexico though.  These days there are more and more large grocery stores including Walmarts, Costcos, and Sam's Clubs with all the same boxed stuff we have in the states.  These are shopped by the growing Mexican middle class who seem hellbent on making every mistake US consumers have ever made.

There is a fresh food market four blocks away from my house that's open every day -- the San Juan Mercado.  It's the size of two city blocks and has a few hundred independent sellers of meats, fish, produce, cheeses, herbs, and loads of miscellaneous stuff.  I go almost every day.  I come home and spread my colorful haul out on the table:  bananas and oranges and mangos and broccoli and zuchini and chicken breasts and blackberries.  Nothing has a box or a jar.  It makes a luscious display.   I can't believe other people in my neighborhood would rather drive to a supermarket.   I guess they are the first generation able to do so and it must feel the same as it did to my mom -- modern and convenient.   Good grief.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I've been so riveted these days by goings on in Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states regarding rights, activism,  and budgets that I've gotten behind on my foodie research.  Ironically though,  many of the states which have been taken over by governors hellbent on striping workers' rights and also on selling their states to corporations are FARM STATES.   To understand farm states and also the federal budget one must get a handle on the topic of Farm Subsidies.  Read below Mark Bittman's outstanding article on the topic.  He did another on Sustainable Agriculture recently that's also a must read.  And if you're feeling depressed about citizens losing their rights, you'll be encouraged when you read about a town in Maine that has passed an ordinance to exempt small farms and home kitchens from federal and state licensing.

Don't End Agricultural Subsidies, Fix Them  Mark Bittman
Agricultural subsidies have helped bring us high-fructose corn syrup, factory farming, fast food, a two-soda-a-day habit and its accompanying obesity, the near-demise of family farms, monoculture and a host of other ills.

Yet — like so many government programs — what subsidies need is not the ax, but reform that moves them forward. Imagine support designed to encourage a resurgence of small- and medium-size farms producing not corn syrup and animal-feed but food we can touch, see, buy and eat — like apples and carrots — while diminishing handouts to agribusiness and its political cronies.
Farm subsidies were created in an attempt to ameliorate the effects of the Great Depression, which makes it ironic that in an era when more Americans are suffering financially than at any time since, these subsidies are mostly going to those who need them least. (Read whole article.)

Sustainable Agriculture Can Feed the World? Mark Bittman

The oldest and most common dig against organic agriculture is that it cannot feed the world’s citizens; this, however, is a supposition, not a fact. And industrial agriculture isn’t working perfectly, either: the global food price index is at a record high, and our agricultural system is wreaking havoc with the health not only of humans but of the earth. There are around a billion undernourished people; we can also thank the current system for the billion who are overweight or obese.
Yet there is good news: increasing numbers of scientists, policy panels and experts (not hippies!) are suggesting that agricultural practices pretty close to organic — perhaps best called “sustainable” — can feed more poor people sooner, begin to repair the damage caused by industrial production and, in the long term, become the norm. (Read whole artitcle)

Maine Town Passes Landmark Local Food Ordinance 
SEDGWICK, MAINE – On Saturday, March 5, residents of a small coastal town in Maine voted unanimously to adopt the Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance, setting a precedent for other towns looking to preserve small-scale farming and food processing. Sedgwick, located on the Blue Hill Peninsula in Western Hancock County, became the first town in Maine, and perhaps the nation, to exempt direct farm sales from state and federal licensing and inspection. The ordinance also exempts foods made in the home kitchen, similar to the Michigan Cottage Food Law passed last year, but without caps on gross sales or restrictions on types of exempt foods. (Read whole article)

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Found myself reading the Southeast Farm Press this week.  The article below about a weed that is resistant to pesticides helped me understand the nasty world of chemical dependency that modern farmers fall victim to.  Imagine going out and spraying acres of clear soil with poison.  The idea really creeps me out.

Growers share resistant pigweed control strategies  Paul Hollis

The first step is acceptance, and no, we’re not talking about a 12-step program. The name of this game is glyphosate-resistant (glyphosate is Round-up) Palmer amaranth pigweed, and the first step in preventing or battling it is admitting you have a problem.
“Don’t deny it, and don’t say that you’ve got only three or four on your farm, and you’re not going to do anything about it. It’s here and it’s real,” says Patrick Turnhage, a west Tennessee farmer. Turnhage was on a panel of consultants and growers telling of their experiences with resistant Palmer pigweed during a recent meeting in Decatur in north Alabama
Turnhage said it was great to see such a large turnout at the meeting focusing on resistant pigweed. “Five years ago, you couldn’t get two or three people together long enough to talk about it. If someone said resistant pigweed, they’d bust up like a covey of quail. You should treat a farm as if you cannot kill a pigweed. If it gets its head above ground and you treat it, but treat it as if you cannot kill it with anything, you’ll be successful,” he says.
It’s important, he says, to overlap pre-emergence treatments and chemistries by following a calendar rather than by driving out into the field to see if pigweeds are emerging.
“If that pre-emergence has a two-week residual, you need to get out in 10 days and spray. You’ve got to learn how to spray clean ground. It’s hard to do — it’s hard to spray something that is as clean as a concrete parking lot, but you’ve got to try and do it if you want to stay in business,” says Turnhage.
Resistant pigweed is putting farmers out of business, he adds. “We’re talking about bush hogging 80-acre cotton fields and disking up 1,000 acres at a time because they’d be alright,” he says.
Next July, says Turnhage, you can go to the foothills of Missouri, in west Tennessee, and tell exactly to the row where people have applied their pre-emergence, and where people are digging and trying to rescue their crop. “They’re spending more money trying to rescue it than they would have putting out the pre-emergence in a timely manner. My grandfather always said that you should spend money only on the things that make you money, and these pre-emergence treatments will make you money and keep you in business,” he says.
“We’ll actually put out herbicide before we do any tillage, because you can’t rely on tillage alone to eliminate that problem. Disking, bedding or chiseling alone won’t do the job. You have to kill pigweed before it gets above the ground.” 
Bill Webster, a consultant in Alabama and Tennessee, says it was about four years ago when he decided he probably had a problem with resistant pigweed. “We had escapes that first year. Then, the next year — about three years ago —  we planted cotton, put down Prowl, let it get activated, came back twice with Roundup, and still had pigweed. We killed a few with Staple, but most of them survived and we ended up topping them out. The next year — two years ago — we planted in wheat and then came back with soybeans, double-cropped, and put out the pre-emergence,” he says.
When rain finally did arrive, says Webster, the pigweeds came up. “Once they get any size on them, you’re not going to get rid of them. This year, we noticed that the combines and other equipment spread them to more fields. You can tell where the equipment pulled into the field. There may be a streak of them or they may be scattered in the field,” he says.
Webster says he’ll be advising growers to do more incorporating of yellow herbicides. “We just need to stay on top of them. I don’t think we’ll ever eliminate them,” he says(read entire article)